In my time as an audio equipment reviewer, I’ve probably fondled over 1,000 knobs (all metal, all consenting), but none have been anywhere near as beautiful or as satisfying to turn as the big golden volume knob that dominates the front panel of the Sony DMP-Z1. To touch it and turn it is gratifying on a deep tactile level.
The DMP-Z1 is mostly an ergonomic delight, but there are a few operational anomalies. For example, the unit re-creates the database for the micro SD cards in its card bays each and every time you turn it on. Similarly, the DMP-Z1 asks users to choose between AC and battery power every time it is powered up. Finally, the unit sports a top-mounted 2.75 ×1.5‑inch colour touchscreen that some may find too small to see clearly or to use effectively.
The good news is that these few quirks in no way diminish the DMP-Z1’s essential riches, which are its sonics. The sound reminds me of the Sony NW-WMZ1 portable player—it is lush without being sluggish and detailed without sounding mechanical. The bass through the Abyss Diana headphones connected via its balanced output extended down to the depths. And while with some amps the Sony MDR-Z1R headphones can sound bass-heavy, the DMP-Z1 tightly and successfully controlled the MDR-Z1’s low bass. Spatial characteristics through both headphones mentioned were superb—tight, well defined, with effortless three-dimensional imaging.
If you are searching for a great all-around, flexible, and ergonomically elegant DAC/headphone amp for your desktop look at Sony’s superb TA-Z1ES. But if you want to experience the bleeding edge of high-resolution DAC/headphone amplifier design and execution (with some limited flexibility) I encourage you to investigate the Sony DMP- Z1 further. It has the most beautiful sound (and volume knob) I have experienced from a desktop-based DAC/headphone amplifier so far.
DMP-Z1 Signature Series Digital Music Player
Type: Battery-powered desktop Digital Music Player with headphone amplifier and DAC
Frequency Response: 20 Hz to 40kHz
Max Power Output: 570 mW single-ended, 1500 mW balanced
Storage: 256 GB internal memory, plus two Micro SD card slots
Battery Life: from 8 to 10 hours
Wireless capabilities: Bluetooth® Specification Version 4.2, NFC, A2DP, AVRCP, SBC, LDAC, aptX, aptX HD, AAC
Dimensions (H×W×D): 6.83 × 13.82 × 27.89cm
Price: £8,000 UK, $8,499 US MSRP